Properly Situating the Old Midwest Region Within the Context of Restructuring, By Ovie Omo-Agege

As we build a consensus for restructuring for the purpose of fostering national cohesion, amity, harmony and unity as one people, to the extent to which we find the 1963 Constitution as a desirable point of reference, then we must go the whole hog and be forthright, truthful and equitable enough to apprehend the pre-military era for what it actually was as a nation of four regions…

It is possible to make the case that if there had been good governance throughout our history as a nation, calls for secession, dismemberment, reworking or restructuring of our body polity would never have arisen, or in any case not to the crescendo the loudness of such calls have assumed in the present dispensation. However, it is also possible to assume the position that at least a major factor, if not the overriding reason, for which there has been a paucity of good governance in our clime throughout much of our national history arises from the serious drawbacks in the structure we have operated since 1963. Given that we have been searching for good governance without restructuring for decades now without much sustainable success, then a stronger case may be made for restructuring than against it.

I would, any day, align myself with the unity of this country as the best bet in ensuring the greatest good for the generality of Nigerians, going forward. Speaking for Delta Central, the constituency I represent in the Senate, I can boldly say the overwhelming majority of my constituents are similarly patriotic Nigerians who enthusiastically support our continued unity, in so far as our national life is truly characterised by the requisite degree of equity and good governance necessary to giving every component part of this country a genuine sense of belonging as authentic and equal components of one nation with one destiny.

Whatever our disparate approaches to the concept of restructuring may amount to in terms of whether or not they are justified, we can at least not deny the fact that while we purport to be a federation, we are anything but one in reality. Our structure, both in terms of its constitutional framework and inter-governmental relationships amongst the various tiers of government, is essentially unitary, a reality that immediately appears to be irreconcilably incongruous with our reality as a nation characterised by much diversity. The very fact that our unitary approach to governance is most unlikely to facilitate genuine unification of our nation, and has, in fact, woefully failed to achieve this since we adopted that paradigm of governance, is instructive enough to work with, going forward, as we set about adopting the best approach to restructuring this one nation that we all share.

It is possible that the misguided outlook that inspired our abandonment of federal republicanism in 1966 drew from an illusion on the part of our military leaders then that all they needed to move our nation forward, was to ape the structure of our former colonial masters, Britain, and every other thing would simply fall into place. Ironically, even Britain, which operated a unitary system for centuries, can no longer be referred to as a unitary state. With the restructuring that led to the devolution of powers to regional governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which now have regional parliaments and cabinets with powers similar to those of any federating unit in any genuine federation anywhere in the world today, it is no longer tenable in constitutional law to cite Britain as an example of a unitary form of government. The United Kingdom of Great Britain is, to all intents and purposes, a federation today and in fact one in which a federating unit is entitled to constitutionally envisage secession vide a referendum as obtained in Scotland a few years back, in which the Scots voted to remain in the union having found remaining in it to be better suited to their welfare than independence.

So we are faced with the rather embarrassing contradiction that the first example any teacher of government or constitutional law is likely to cite to students as an example of a unitary form of government is now actually a federal system of government, having clearly realised that it could no longer meet the challenges of good governance with the unitary format and had to restructure into a proper federation. Yet Britain is a well governed body polity and has been so governed for centuries now. Nevertheless, when it found the unitary paradigm no longer suited to its reality, it took the initiative and restructured. In this light, it is instructive that while we strive for good governance, as the present administration is championing across our national life, we would do well not to deny ourselves the utility of restructuring into genuine and fiscal federalism which can only be invaluably complementary and of overwhelming assistance to our aim of achieving good governance, which at the end of the day is what our people most yearn for.

Now, one of the trends that has gained the greatest prominence in the ongoing discourse pertaining to the direction our restructuring should take, is the idea of returning our federating and governance ethos to the essence of the regionalism of the 1963 Constitution, largely adjudged to be our best achievement at adopting a homegrown approach to good governance and unity in diversity thus far. The problem with the formulation of this argument is that it has been largely dishonest in terms of presenting the true reality of our federal configuration under that constitution. Thus you hear all manner of commentators, who must be assumed to actually know better, giving the impression that Nigeria ceased being a federation when the military annulled this constitution, culminating in the abrogation of three regions, namely the Eastern, Northern and Western regions and their replacement with the summarily and arbitrarily created states they were dismembered into.

…in framing our national discourse with regard to regionalism or at least its essence as a desirable framework for restructuring going forward, we must incorporate this undilutable fact of our history into our deliberations or we would have inequitably embarked on a mission, in which equity itself is supposed to be the end result.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When the military intervened in 1966, thereby truncating our democratic experiment and disfiguring the structure of governance from a federal system into the unitary system that has plagued us to date, there were not three regions but four, namely the Eastern, Midwest, Northern and Western regions, in alphabetical order. All four regions were perfectly co-equal as federating units, with similar powers, prestige and legal status within their individual spheres of influence as components of the Nigerian nation, and the tendency to pretend that there were only three regions or that at any rate, the Midwest Region is somehow negligible is just the sort of falsehood and lack of fidelity to the truth that has done our country incalculable harm in forging a way forward in our national life.

Far from being in any way inferior to any other region, the Midwest can actually boast of being a sort of primus inter pares, in the sense that it was the first and only region that was not a legacy of the arbitrariness of the legacy of the colonial masters but the creation of the autochthonous will of the people through a democratically formulated and administered referendum vide, which it was created as an expression of popular will within the context of sovereignty belonging to the people. Thus while every other region was a legacy of the dictatorial will of the colonial masters lumping all manner of disparate groups into particular political units without their input or permission, the Midwest, on the other hand, is the first attempt on our part, in our entire history as a nation, to take our destiny in our own hands and create a political unit of our own making and design, as well as, to our own taste and in our best interest, to devolve power and bring governance closer to an important section of our people. Whether anyone likes it or not, or out of ignorance or for ulterior motives chooses to pretend this never happened, it remains a fact of our history as a nation that cannot be ignored or relegated to the background.

Thus, in framing our national discourse with regard to regionalism or at least its essence as a desirable framework for restructuring going forward, we must incorporate this undilutable fact of our history into our deliberations or we would have inequitably embarked on a mission, in which equity itself is supposed to be the end result. Nothing could be more incongruous, self-contradictory and pointless than proceeding in a manner guaranteed to create new problems while purporting to be aiming to solve old ones.

We must not forget, for instance, that in the standard federation model, across the world, seats in the national parliament are distributed on the basis of equality of federating units in the upper chamber and on the basis of population of federating units in the lower chamber. Thus, had the present National Assembly been sitting in terms of the 1963 Constitution, the present Edo and Delta States, as the Midwest, would be entitled to one quarter of the entirety of seats in the Senate, even though it would have a minority of seats in the House of Representatives.

As we build a consensus for restructuring for the purpose of fostering national cohesion, amity, harmony and unity as one people, to the extent to which we find the 1963 Constitution as a desirable point of reference, then we must go the whole hog and be forthright, truthful and equitable enough to apprehend the pre-military era for what it actually was as a nation of four regions in which the existence of the Midwest Region as a fact of history cannot be wished away. In as much as it was a region, indeed one created in the most democratically valid manner imaginable, it is entitled to the entirety of the prestige, privileges and prominence with all the implications pertaining thereto, as a co-equal federating unit before the truncation of democratic governance as we had under the 1963 Constitution under which it was created.

Ovie Omo-Agege, is the current senator of the Federal Republic from Delta Central.

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